“The original teachings of Jesus are all about wealth redistribution and fighting greed and uplifting the poor,” Olivia Chalkley says. Liberation theology is grounded in that explicit connection between economic justice and spiritual salvation, and, as Olivia discusses, has much to teach us about “the opportunity to create something that resembles the kingdom of heaven here on Earth.”
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Yeah, I feel invested in the project of firing up the Quaker community and really, like, engaging in difficult conversations about our relationship to pacifism, and really challenging ourselves to find that, like, veracity of early Friends that was grounded in what I understand to be a liberatory interpretation of the bible.
A Quaker Take on Liberation Theology
My name’s Olivia Chalkley. I live in West Philadelphia, and I’m the Program Facilitator for the Young Friends of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
So, liberation theology is a Christian tradition started by radical Catholics in Latin America that looks at poverty and the root causes of poverty as stemming from greed, which is a sin. And I think liberation theology is aimed– like, there’s an understanding that we do have the opportunity to create something that resembles the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth and striving to create that by acting as true disciples of Christ, which is acting not out of greed but out of solidarity with every other human based on an understanding of the inherent sanctity of every human life.
Applying Liberation Theology to COVID-19
I think it’s fun to look through the bible and search for passages that apply to either situations right now or that can be used to argue for a liberatory interpretation of Christianity, and I think the project of kind of rescuing Christianity from the ways it’s been used to pillage and exploit seems like really important work to me because the original teachings of Jesus are all about wealth redistribution and fighting greed and uplifting the poor.
I think our current situation, what we’re facing with both the health crisis and economic crisis of COVID-19, I think a lot of things are kind of coming to the surface that have always been there: issues with our healthcare system, issues with our economy that’s entirely reliant on forces of the market and just completely collapses when people can’t go to work, and the people who end up suffering from that the most are people who are already in precarious positions. So I think this offers us an opportunity to see how messed up things are but also how simple it could be to give everybody everything they need because we are the wealthiest country on Earth and there is enough to go around.
Quakers and Resource Distribution
There are all these parts of the bible where people are struggling and have experiences of spiritual surrender where they’re like, “Ok, I give up. The Lord will provide for me,” basically, and that’s not going to work for us necessarily in this time but I think those are important reminders of just like, how there actually is enough for everybody. There is no scarcity and it’s all just about how it’s distributed, and I think it’s our duty as Quakers to really take to task the forces that hoard resources in a way that is in alignment and in integrity with our belief that is like, so fundamental to Quakerism that there is something inherently sacred with every human life. Like, if we actually believe that then we’ll be living as simply as possible so we can give our money to people who need it. That is at the core of Quakerism and that’s at the core of Christianity, too.
- Do you believe we can apply liberation theology to Quaker practices? Why or why not?
- Olivia states that COVID-19, “offers us an opportunity to see… how simple it could be to give everybody everything they need because we are the wealthiest country on Earth and there is enough to go around.” Do you agree with this? If so, what are some concrete steps we can take to distribute wealth and resources to those who need them the most? If not, what can we do instead?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
7 thoughts on “A Quaker Take on Liberation Theology”
So refreshing, so basic, so simple. Not easy, but simple. If I want to know how to deal with Covid 19, I pay attention to the medical people, not the economists, not the CEO’s, certainly not the president. If I want to know what Jesus taught, I look to His words, His actions. And then open myself to the Holy Spirit. Not the Holy Falwell, theHoly Graham, certainly not the Holy Jeffress nor the Holy White. What does He say, how does He live, how does He die? All the rest is just agenda.
Over the past year or two I’ve become much more mindful of liberation theology as a most authentic and important voice and have tried to add this perspective. Last Summer I heard Miguel A. De La Torre speak daily at Chautauqua and found his talks to be transformational. I’m reading his book Reading the Bible From The Margins. He has a book on Liberation Theology. He is no stranger to Philadelphia with a doctorate from Temple U.
Thanks for this edition of QuakerSpeak
I never thought about scarcity and distribution being connected to a spiritual surrender!! Wow, so moved by this Friend’s Truth. <3
I remember when I was a little girl, maybe seven years old, my family was quite poor, though I didn’t know it then. I was standing in a a dime store looking at all the things spread out on display. I didn’t have a nickel for a box of gold stars, and I remember thinking to myself “Why can’t everybody just have enough for what they need and be able to have what they need, and that’s enough?”
When I was older and being schooled in the evils of Communism, I remembered that moment in the dime store and thought to myself, “Oh, dear! Am I a communist?!”
A lot of time has passed, I’m 76 years old, and I find myself remembering how many times that original thought has returned, that I’m no longer afraid of my thoughts, how much I myself have learned, and that I am still the same at heart. Now I am happy to call myself a Quaker and a proponent of liberation theology. Down deep, it seems very simple.
Thank you for the reminder, Olivia.
I’m not at all sure that greed is the cause of poverty, according to Jesus or according to how things work in our time, in America or the rest of the world. Yes people are greedy, yes greed is a sin / bad, and poverty is bad too, but unless greed is so broadly construed as to be all-encompassing… well, I just don’t see it. I can see that greed contributes to poverty, but I think there are many other spiritual and material factors/tendencies equally important.
Among Jesus’s teachings I always try to get back to loving other people “as myself” — which can occasionally lead to thinking I should “redistribute” my own resources, but almost always there are other things I should be doing that get more to deeper issues. Same thing for society at large.
I agree with the goal of liberation theology, and with the goals of Christianity, one of which is to help people in need – help the sick, the poor, the widows (who in the old days were often unable to make a living because of oppression of women) care for the children and disabled. I see the question being on How to create a more just and equitable society. Governments are responsible for this, and democracies can help by providing services for those in need. But current governments are biased in their fear – almost paranoia — about possible attacks from other countries, and by spending more than they need to on armaments, take money away from human services. And also, by creating huge armaments, they make other countries afraid of attack from us, and so they arm also. While we do need to have security (internally – police forces) (and externally coast guards and peace keepers) we need to stress more world peace, diplomacy, friendship, alliances, multi=nationalism, Peace Corps, and world philanthropy to make friends, reduce conflict. Then if the security needs were not so huge, we would have more funds to share with human beings in need. There is an imbalance due in part to the wrong priorities of spending the people’s funds, taken in taxes, and used with wrong priorities. So the basic way to correct the situation is through political education, voting, and supporting those who have liberal, world views, and can push for international understanding and peace in the world.
I have a dear cousin who is Catholic, and who has embraced Liberation Theology. And here is confirmation of our spiritual connection. Thank you.
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